Traveling with kids might not seem like the vacation it once was pre-baby. Even a simple overnight trip requires a lot more planning (and packing) than it used to. The good news is your vacation doesn’t have to be full of stress.
Follow these seven easy tips to make your family vacation a little more relaxing for you (and your kids):
1.Pack More Snacks Than You Think You Need - We’ve all felt “hangry” (hunger plus anger) at one time or another - so hungry that we’re ready to bite the heads off anyone who dares to come between us and our next meal. Kids can get hangry too, and any parent will tell you that a hungry child is a cranky child. When craving calories, children often become irritable, especially if they’re too young to identify what’s bothering them. When you travel, don’t wait for young children to tell you they’re getting hungry. Instead, offer snacks before hunger sets in. By offering food preemptively, you just might avoid the tears and tantrums that often accompany kids’ hunger pangs.
Packing your own snacks will also save your family time and money. By bringing your own food, you’ll make it easier to ensure your kids eat healthily while you’re away. You don’t want to be stranded in an unfamiliar area or even in an airport terminal where your only options are overpriced, sugar-loaded junk food. To avoid mood-altering blood sugar spikes in you and your little ones, pack low-sugar, protein-rich snacks for the whole family.
2.Scope Out Kid-Friendly Restaurants Ahead Of Time - A bag full of snacks isn’t going to hold you over for your entire trip. At some point during your vacation, you’ll probably need to eat out. When your whole family is ravenous for food is not the time to do research on appropriate restaurants. If you plan ahead of time, you’ll know exactly which eateries will please your family and welcome kids, making for a more relaxing vacation for everyone.
Restaurant review websites like TripAdvisor can help you identify which restaurants are kid-friendly. When you search for a restaurant on TripAdvisor, be sure to select “Families with children” under the section titled “Good For” on the left-side search panel. TripAdvisor also frequently posts lists of kid-friendly restaurants in certain cities. To see if such a list is available for your destination, try typing “kid-friendly restaurants in ___________ site:tripadvisor.com” into Google (fill in the blank with wherever you’re headed).
Google Maps also allows you to search for restaurants close to where you’re staying. So if you know proximity will be important to you, type in your hotel’s address in the search bar on Google Maps. Next, click the button underneath the hotel’s name that says “NEARBY.” In the search bar, type “restaurants,” which will pull up a list of eateries close to where you’re staying.
3.Try To Stick To Routine As Much As Possible - While adults might view disruptions in routine as adventurous and recharging, kids can have more trouble when they don’t know what to expect. Most children thrive on routine. Since your child may already be feeling anxious about being away from home, try to adhere to his routine whenever and however you can.
One habit you may want to keep while you’re away is your child’s nighttime routine. A favorite teddy bear or bedtime story can offer your child a bit of familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar bed or hotel room. If bedtime at home means toothbrushing, then a story, then a song, and then lights out, follow that same order while you’re away.
If you have a baby who is still nursing or bottle-feeding, work to keep their typical feeding schedule while you travel. Plan your agenda around your child’s usual feeding times. While it may seem inconvenient to have to plan around a baby’s frequent feedings, the effort you put in to do so will be worth it to have a happy, contented little one while you’re away.
4.Schedule Travel Around Bed and Nap Times - As adults, we might be able to miss an occasional hour or two of sleep here and there and not notice much of a difference in how we feel. Not so with kids. Perhaps no part of a child’s routine is as important as his or her sleep schedule. When your child misses a nap she is used to having, the whole family can end up suffering. If possible, try to work time into your travel schedule for your child’s regular nap and bedtimes. If you’re traveling by car and your child is able to sleep easily in a car seat, plan to drive during the times when your child usually sleeps.
Getting your youngest kid to bed at their usual sleep time can be more difficult when the whole family is crammed into one hotel room, but it is possible. The key is to have things for the rest of the family to do once your youngest is asleep. For instance, if you have older children who stay up later than the younger ones, offer them quiet activities to do after lights-out. Pack headphones, tablets, and e-readers to keep your older kids (and yourself!) occupied - without disturbing your little one’s sleep needs.
5.Leave Extra Time For The Unexpected - Gone are the days of vacations jam-packed with minute-to-minute adventures, tours, and action. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably find that a lighter agenda suits your family better. Everything with children takes a bit longer - getting dressed and ready in the morning, enjoying a meal, and even settling down once it’s time to sleep. Without time between activities, you can’t plan for the extra time it might take you to convince your child to put on her coat or finish eating her meal. What’s more is you could end up with kids that are overstimulated from too much activity, which could put a major damper on the rest of your plans.
When it comes to life with kids, always expect the unexpected. You never know when you might need to change a dirty diaper, clean up spilled juice, or soothe a child who has just scraped his knee. If you plan to do less, you’ll have time in your schedule for these little unexpected mishaps, and you’ll feel more relaxed when they do happen.
6.Be Prepared In Case Of Illness - Kids get sick, sometimes with no warning. Unfortunately, children are much more likely than adults to acquire illnesses like diarrhea, especially when traveling abroad. Which means you’ll not only have to help them fight their jet lag, but be prepared for the worst. Don’t risk being away from home with a sick child and no way to care for her. Your packing list should include a thermometer, a child-friendly electrolyte drink like Pedialyte, spare changes of clothes, and children’s pain-relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You should also purchase extra bottled water to prevent dehydration if you’re traveling to an area where drinking water might not be safe.
Again, doing a bit of research and planning in advance can save you a lot of stress if your child does become sick while you’re away. Be sure to save the phone number of your child’s pediatrician, just in case you don’t have internet access when your child falls ill. Know in advance what to do if you need to call your child’s doctor after-hours. You should also save a list of nearby hospitals and urgent care centers just in the event that you need medical attention while you’re away.
7.Empathize - Kids get upset over things that would never faze an adult, like the wrong color sippy cup. But that doesn’t mean you should laugh at or ignore their fears. Being away from home can be scary and anxiety-provoking for some children. It’s easy for us to get caught in the trap of dismissing a child’s fears. When we say things like, “there’s nothing to be scared of,” what we’re actually doing is invalidating the child’s feelings. If you sense your child coping with scary emotions before or during your trip, you can address those feelings without dwelling on them by saying something simple like, “you’re feeling scared,” or “sleeping somewhere new can be scary!” Sometimes just having their feelings acknowledged is enough to ease a child’s worries and help them feel heard.
Vacations these days might be different than the care-free ones you took before you had kids. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. With a little planning, traveling together can be a great way to reconnect and recharge as a family.